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    Smaller Natural Grocers Converging in Whole Foods' Austin Backyard

    Austin, Texas-the home base of Whole Foods Markets-is drawing smaller-scale natural and organic grocers to compete with the hometown favorite. Both Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage and Sunflower Farmers Market plan stores in the market next year.

    Lakewood, Colo.-based Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage plans to open its first Austin, Texas store in Jan. 2009. The 11,000-square-foot facility will be Natural Grocers' third in the state. The grocer currently owns 27 stores in New Mexico, Texas, and Colorado.

    Kemper Isley, co-president of Natural Grocers, said he believes Austin's demographics match the company's model of a traditional natural foods store.

    "We've always considered ourselves synergistic with Whole Foods, and I think we'll be the same way with Central Market," said Isely, alluding to another prominent Austin specialty banner, owned by HEB.

    Natural Grocers claims its prices are typically lower than other natural and organic grocers.

    If the first store performs well, Natural Grocers said it will open two other stores in Austin in coming years.

    Sunflower Farmers Market, also based in Colorado, said in June that it planned to open its first store in Austin, and was planning three more stores in the region.

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